PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS*
|Salutation||Greetings to the Twelve Tribes||Salutation||Salutation||Address and Greetings|
|Faith and Wisdom||Profiting from Trials||The Blessing of Trials||Faith and Wisdom||Trials a Privilege|
|Prayer with Confidence|
|Poverty and Riches||The Perspective of Rich and Poor||Poverty and Riches||The Lot of the Rich|
|Trial and Temptation||Loving God Under Trials||Testing and Temptation||Temptation|
|Receiving the Word and Putting It into Practice|
|Hearing and Doing the Word||Qualities Needed in Trials||True Worship||Hearing and Doing||True Religion|
|Doers - Not Hearers|
* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.
In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspired—readers have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.
Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Brief Definitions of Greek Grammatical Structure, Textual Criticism, and Glossary.
READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
1. First paragraph
2. Second paragraph
3. Third paragraph
POSSIBLE OUTLINE OF CHAPTER 1
There are several ways to outline this chapter. One is to list the characteristics of the redeemed and mature believers versus the redeemed, but weak believers:
1. joy amidst trials (1:2)
2. ask for wisdom to endure trials (1:5)
3. do not doubt in prayer (1:6)
4. glory in Christ (1:9)
5. persevere in temptation (1:12)
6. quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (1:19)
7. put off all moral evil (1:21)
8. receive the word of God (1:21)
do the word of God (1:22)
look to and remember the word of God (1:24-25)
9. careful of speech (1:20)
10. help the needy (1:27)
11. remain unstained by the world (1:27)
(did not ask)
glory in wealth
yield to temptation
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT 1:1
1James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
1:1 "James" It is the Greek form of the common Hebrew name, Jacob. He was known by both Jews and Christians in Jerusalem as "James the Just." He became the respected leader of the Jerusalem Church (cf. Acts 15). Some traditional evidence indicates that this was because of his genealogical relationship to Jesus. This seems to have been a pattern in this church for several generations. One reason I believe this book is not pseudonymous in that James does not specifically identify himself or his relationship to Jesus. This humility characterizes NT authors.
▣ "a bond-servant" This refers to either (1) a sense of humility or (2) an OT honorific title (i.e., Moses, David). It is obviously used as the opposite of "Lord" (cf. Jude v. 1).
▣ "of God and the Lord Jesus Christ" This GENITIVE phrase combines God and Jesus in a grammatical parallel in order to assert Jesus' equality with God (cf. Titus 2:13; II Pet. 1:1). It could also link the Father and the Son into one activity (cf. I Thess. 3:11; II Thess. 2:16). NT authors often use the title "Lord" (i.e., kurios, which is synonymous with the Hebrew adon, both translated "owner," "master," "husband," or "lord") to assert the deity of Jesus of Nazareth. It was a term used to translate "YHWH" from the Hebrew OT into the Greek of the Septuagint (cf. Exod. 3:14). See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at 5:4.
NASB"to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad"
NKJV"the twelve tribes who are scattered abroad"
NRSV"the twelve tribes in the Dispersion"
TEV"to all God's people scattered over the whole world"
NJB"the twelve tribes of the Dispersion"
The "twelve tribes" would be an inclusive metaphor for all of the Jewish believers. They are the new people of God, the new Israel (cf. Rom. 2:28,29; Gal. 6:16; I Pet. 2:5,9).
The term "diaspora" (lit. scattered seed) is first used in the LXX where it has several connotations.
1. the removal of God's people from the Promised Land because of their sin (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28)
2. the designation referring to the people (i.e., community) who are exiled
3. the way of designating the place/locality of the exiled Jews (i.e., Babylon, Media, Assyria)
It came to refer to Jews living outside of Palestine. In this context it refers to Jewish Christians in local churches scattered across the Mediterranean (the fulfillment of the ridicule of John 7:35).
▣ "Greetings" This is the common opening form (i.e., charein) of a Greek letter, but it is rare in the NT letters. It literally means "rejoice." James uses this same "greetings," as in Acts 15:23. Paul slightly changes it from "greetings" to "grace" (i.e., charis).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT 1:2-4
2Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
1:2 "Consider it" This is an aorist middle imperative. The TEV translates it as "consider yourselves." The Williams NT translates it as "you must consider." James is calling on believers to make a decisive personal choice about how they face their life situations. Knowing Christ changes everything (i.e., Phil. 3:7-8)! It is literally "add it all up!" In the ancient world sets of numbers were totaled at the top, not the bottom, as in our culture.
▣ "all joy" "All" is placed first in the Greek text for emphasis. In James the trials are not joy, but their possible results are (cf. Matt. 5:10-12; Luke 6:22-23: Acts 5:41; Rom, 5:3; I Pet. 1:6). Jesus suffered and we must share this maturing experience (cf. Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:17; II Cor. 1:5,7; Phil, 1:29; 3:10; Heb. 5:8-9; and especially I Pet. 2:21; 3:14-17; 4:12-16).
▣ "my brethren" James uses the term "brethren" (adelphos/adelphoi) to (1) introduce a new subject (like Paul) and (2) to endear himself to his readers, which was necessary because of his hard-hitting prophetic style. James uses this literary technique often (cf. 1:2,16,19; 2:1,5,14; 3:1,10,12; 4:11; 5:7,9,10,12,19).
The Greek term follows the Hebrew connotation of a blood relative, close kin, neighbor, or covenant partner. The Greek term is a combination of "womb" (delphys) and "a" (i.e., one from the same womb). The people of God perceive themselves as God's children. This led to the use of many familial metaphors in the NT: (1) child/children; (2) born again/born from above; (3) adopted; and (4) brother/brothers.
NASB"when you encounter"
NKJV"when you fall into"
NRSV"whenever you face"
TEV"when. . .comes your way"
NJB"when. . .come upon you"
This is an aorist active subjunctive of the compound terms "to fall" and "around." The subjunctive speaks of possible future action, but with some degree of doubt. These believers were experiencing some problems, but apparently not all of them. Trials and problems are common for believers in this fallen world.
▣ "various trials" This is literally "many colored" or "rainbowed" (cf. I Pet. 1:6). In I Peter 4:10 the same word translated by NASB "manifold," is used to describe God's grace. For every trial we face there is a matching grace of God! In James 1:3a trials purify faith, in 1:3b they produce patience, and in 1:4 they produce maturity. Problems happen! How believers face them is the crucial issue!
The word "trials" (peirasmos, cf. v. 12) denotes an attempt to destroy (cf. vv. 13,14). See Special Topic following.
In v. 3 the other word with the connotation of "tempt," "text," or "try" (dokimion, cf. I Pet. 1:7) is used. This word often has the connotation of "tested for strengthening."
1:3 "the testing of" The Greek term dokimos was used of testing metals to prove their genuineness (cf. Pro. 27:21 in the Septuagint). It developed the connotation of "to test with a view toward approval" (cf. 1:12; I Pet. 1:7). God tests His children (cf. Gen. 22:1; Exod. 15:25; 16:4; 20:20; Deut. 8:2,16; 13:3; Jdgs. 2:22; 3:1,4; II Chr. 32:31; Matt. 4:1; I Pet. 4:12-16), but it is always for strengthening, never for destruction. See Special Topic below.
▣ "faith" Here, the word pistis is used in the sense of personal trust in God through Christ, not Christian doctrine as it does in Jude vv. 3,20.
The Greek term pistis may be translated in English as "trust," "believe," or "faith." This term conveys two distinct aspects of our relationship with God: (1) we put our trust in the trustworthiness of God's promises and Jesus' finished work and (2) we believe the message about God, man, sin, Christ, salvation, etc. Hence, it can refer to the message of the gospel or our trust in the gospel. The gospel is a person to welcome, a message to believe, and a life to live.
▣ "produces" This is a present middle (deponent) indicative. Notice that an ongoing process, not an instantaneous result, is being emphasized. A similar chain of growth stages is seen in Rom. 5:3-4; Col. 1:11-12; I Pet. 1:6-7. Salvation is a gift and a process! See Special Topic: Greek Terms for Testing at 1:13.
▣ "endurance" This Greek word means a "voluntary, active, steadfast, patient endurance." This is a recurrent theme in James (cf. 1:3,4,12; 5:11).
1:4 "And let endurance have" This is a present active imperative. Of the 108 verses in the book of James there are 54 imperatives. It is a book of exhortation to practical living.
▣ "its perfect results, so that you may be perfect and complete" The Greek word "perfect" (teleios used twice, cf. 1:17,25; 3:2) means "fully equipped," "mature," or "ripe." Noah is described by this same word in the Septuagint of Gen. 6:9. It seems to have the connotation of a mature faith which issues in faithful, loving service. It does not imply or suggest "sinlessness" or "without fault." It is just possible that this could have an eschatological reference. James often looks toward the culmination of the Christian hope (cf. 1:8-9,12; 5:7,8).
The second term "complete" (holoklēria) is used of the health and wholeness of the physical body (cf. Acts 3:16) and metaphorically of the well-being of all mankind, both physically and spiritually (cf. I Thess. 5:23 and in an eschatological sense).
▣ "lacking in nothing" Notice that a mature Christian is described in three ways.
1. perfect (telos)
2. with integrity or complete (holoklēros cf. I Thess. 5:23)
3. lacking in nothing (NJB "not deficient in any way")
Trials are God's means of producing maturity (cf. Heb. 5:8-9). Maturity is not theological insight only, but daily faithful endurance! Maturity is who we are, not what we know! Its fruit is seen and developed in crisis.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT 1:5-8
5But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
1:5 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence which means it is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Believers need wisdom to live a godly life in this fallen world. James knew that trials are often taken as a sign of God's displeasure, but when caused by godliness, exactly the opposite (cf. Job and Psalm 73).
▣ "any of you lacks wisdom" There is a wordplay between vv. 4c and 5a. It is captured in the NASB translation ". . . lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom." This theme is continued in 3:13-18.
Notice the universal offer of wisdom "if any of you. . . ." God's wisdom is available to His children, but they must sense the need, ask, and receive. Wisdom, like maturity, is not automatic.
▣ "wisdom" In the OT wisdom/knowledge represents two aspects: (1) intellectual and (2) practical (cf. Pro. 1:1-6). In this context it is the practical, daily insight from God that sustains His persecuted people.
God's gift, through sustained prayer, of wisdom is conditioned on faith without doubt, vv. 5-8. Both believing prayer and God's wisdom are our spiritual weapons in trials and temptations (cf. Eph. 6:10-18).
▣ "let him ask of God" This is a Present active imperative, which is literally "let him continue to ask of God" (cf. Matt. 7:7-8; Luke 11:9). This same verbal form is repeated in v. 6 with the additional qualifying phrase "in faith" (cf. Matt. 17:20; 21:21). In Matthew it is God who gives "good things"; in Luke it is God who gives "the Holy Spirit"; and in James it is God who gives "wisdom." Wisdom can be personified, as in Pro. 8:22-31. In John 1:1 God's wisdom refers to Jesus (the Logos).
▣ "gives to all" This is a universal promise to all of God's children. Notice how the context develops this universal theme: "if any ask," "gives to all generously," "without reproach," "it will be given." But, there are conditions: "ask in faith," "without doubting." See Special Topic at 4:3.
The universal availability of daily wisdom for believers to know how to live in a way that is pleasing to God is a wonderful truth, especially in times of trials. It is even possible that a gracious God would answer the heartfelt prayer of the lost person (i.e., Acts 10, Cornelius) in giving him/her wisdom also, a wisdom that leads to salvation (cf. II Tim. 3:15).
This form of the term haplōs is found only here in the NT. Its root form (haploos) means "single" or "with an undivided motive or mind" (cf. Matt. 6:22 for another possible link to the Sermon on the Mount).
It (haplotēs) came to be used metaphorically of sincerity, genuineness, or purity of motive (cf. Rom. 12:8; II Cor. 1:12; 11:3; Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22) or liberality (cf. II Cor. 8:2; 9:11,13). James uses it here to describe God's free gift of wisdom to those who ask and continue to ask in faith.
▣ "and without reproach" God is not a harsh, stingy disciplinarian! He is a loving parent who wants the best for His children! He does not play favorites.
1:6 "he must ask in faith" This is the condition for all of God's spiritual gifts and provisions. This does not refer to doubting our abilities, but doubting God's ability and willingness (cf. 5:15; Heb. 11). Faith establishes fellowship with God; doubt destroys it! God has limited Himself to respond to the believing/faithful/trusting prayers of His children! The concept of "unanswered" prayer is discussed again in 4:1-3.
▣ "without any doubting" In the Greek text the term "doubting" is a present middle participle. It is repeated twice. The term "diakrinō" usually means "to discern by making distinctions" (cf. 2:4), but in several passages it takes on the connotation of wavering between two decisions or opinions, which implies an unsettled mind, a lack of mature faith (cf. Matt. 21:21; Mark 11:23; Rom. 4:20; 14:23). It illustrates the continual struggle of (1) the doubting Christian or (2) the Christian with two allegiances (God vs. self).
1:7 "that man" This is a Semitic idiom of contempt. This is parallel to the doubter of v. 6.
▣ "ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord"
NASB"being a double-minded man"
NKJV"he is a double-minded man"
TEV"unable to make up your mind"
NJB"inconsistent in every activity"
Literally this means "two-souled" (only here and in 4:8). This term is unique to James in the NT and in Greek literature. Many believe James coined it. It probably comes from the OT's "double-heart" (cf. I Chr. 12:33; Ps. 12:2). An OT illustration of this concept would be David (a whole heart toward YHWH) vs. Solomon (a half heart). It was used early and often by the early church, first by clement of Rome about a.d. 96. This is possibly an evidence for the early date of this letter. In Paul Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, this is seen in "Mr. Facing Both Ways." He is described in v. 6 as a restless ocean and in v. 8 as a double-minded, unstable person. Verses 6-8 describe a person who claims to know God and is part of the believing community. It is possible that v. 6 deals with a doubting person and vv. 7-8 deal with a double-minded person. This passage may reflect the proverbial "two ways" or the Jewish "two intents" (yetzers, cf. Deut. 30:15-20; Or. 4:10-19; matt. 7:13-14).
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN VERSES 7-8 AND 9-11
A. The conjunction used in v. 9 (de) signals the reader that these verses are somehow connected with what goes before. However, the link is unspecified. It is obvious that the discussion of trials, which is introduced in v. 2, begins again in vv. 12ff.
B. The contextual connection is uncertain. Some say:
1. the "all joy" of v. 2 relates to "rejoice" of v. 9
2. the trials of v. 2 relate to the tests of poverty or wealth in vv. 9-11.
C. Most commentators relate vv. 9-11 to the "trials" of v. 2. These trials are discussed again in vv. 12ff. The trials of vv. 9-11 would uniquely refer to temptations caused by poverty or wealth, not persecution.
D. Remember this is a Jewish-type sermon, possibly an anthology of sermons.
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.
1. To whom is this letter addressed?
2. What is the purpose of trials according to vv. 3 and 4?
3. What is doubt? How does doubt affect believers' prayers?
4. Are there two kinds of people spoken of in vv. 6-8 or only one?
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT 1:9-11
9But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
1:9 "brother" Although James has a Jewish flavor, it is addressed to a Christian audience. This is confirmed by
1. the use of the term "brother" (cf. 1:2,16,19; 2:1,5,14; 3:1,10,12; 4:11; 5:7,9,10,12,19)
2. the use of the term "Lord" (cf. 1:1,7,12; 2:1; 4:10,15; 5:4,7,8,10,11,14,15)
3. the specific mention of faith in Christ (cf. 2:1); and (4) the expectation of Jesus' return (cf. 5:8)
NASB"of humble circumstances"
NRSV"who is lowly"
TEV"who are poor"
NJB"in humble circumstances"
This word can refer to physical poverty (i.e., Luke's Sermon on the Plain, cf. Luke 6:20), but in the parallel of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew it refers to the "spiritually poor" (cf. Matt. 5:3). The word occurs again in James 4:6 and is translated "humble" (cf. Rom. 12:16; II Cor. 10:1).
TEV"must be glad"
This present imperative (kauchaomai) can be seen in the Septuagint of Ps. 32:11 and in the NT in Phil. 3:3. This is a strong Greek term and should be translated "exult" (cf. Rom. 5:2,3,11).
▣ "in his high position" This refers to one's personal exaltation at being a Christian (cf. Jer. 9:23-24). In light of this, worldly distinctions and trials fade into insignificance.
1:10 "the rich man is to glory in his humiliation" The exact point of the comparison is not clear, but it becomes obvious if we assume that both are believers. The NT emphasizes that lack of humility brings a reaction from God (cf. Matt. 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14). However, the term "brother" does not appear in v. 10. This passage may be contrasting poor believers and wealthy unbelievers, like 5:1-6 and the parable of Jesus in Luke 16:19-31.
▣ "like flowering grass he will pass away" This metaphor refers to the transitory nature of all material things (cf. II Cor. 4:18). These words in vv. 10-11 are an allusion to Isa. 40:6-8 or Ps. 103:15-16 (cf. I Pet. 1:24-25). The poor need a sense of worth and the rich need a sense of humility. Earthly distinctions fade away in Christ (cf. I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:25; col. 3:11) and will one day fade away in the consummated kingdom of God.
1:11 "For the sun rises with a scorching wind" This refers to the desert Sirocco winds. Grass (and humanity) is fragile, dependant, and transitory.
▣ "appearance" This is literally the word "face" used in a specialized sense (cf. Matt. 16:3).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:12-18
12Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 18In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
1:12 "Blessed" This verbless exclamatory phrase reflects the Semitic idioms so common in the OT. Two overlapping Hebrew verbs (BDB 80, BDB 138), both translate "blessed," are used repeatedly in this way in all OT genres.
This same idiom is used in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6-7), but only once in John's Gospel (cf. John 20:29). However, it does occur seven times in Revelation (cf. 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14).
It describes a person who is in a faithful relationship with God in Christ. It is an inner tranquility unaffected by circumstances or physical abundance!
▣ "the man who perseveres under trial" This is a present tense which means continuance under trial (cf. v. 3). Believers are not blessed by the trial, but the spiritual maturity which perseverance and faith produce through them.
▣ "for once he has been approved" "Test" is the Greek word dokimos (cf. v. 3). It often implies "to test with a view toward approval." This approval comes only through testing. It was used in Greek for medical doctors taking a final practical test before graduation. See Special Topic at 1:13.
▣ "crown of life" This is the Greek term stephanos, which was a wreath worn on the head as a symbol of military or athletic victory. It is the word from which we get the English name Stephen. There are several crowns referred to in the NT which faithful believers will receive from God.
1. "the crown of righteousness" (cf. II Tim. 4:8)
2. "the crown of life" (cf. Rev. 2:10; 3:11)
3. "the crown of glory" (cf. I Pet. 5:4)
4. "an imperishable crown" (cf. I Cor. 9:25)
Because of the Jewish flavor of James, this probably does not refer to an athletic victory wreath, but follows the Septuagint where stephanos is used of a royal or priestly crown.
▣ "which the Lord has promised" This is an aorist middle (deponent) indicative with an unexpressed subject (i.e., MSS P23, א, A, B).. The NASB, NKJV, NRSV, and NJB supply "the Lord," while TEV and NIV supply "God." This is typical of many later scribal changes to the original Greek texts. The scribes tried to make the text as specific as possible to remove ambiguity or supposed heretical interpretation. It is also possible that James is following the rabbinical tradition of writing in such a way that the reader si assumed to insert "God" at the appropriate points (cf. A Textual Commentary of the Greek NT, by Bruce Metzger, p. 679).
Also notice this crown (1) is promised by God, but (2) comes through the believer's victory over trials and temptations. As always God deals with mankind through covenant "if. . .then" categories. God provides, initiates, and empowers, but we must respond and continue to respond by repentance, faith, obedience, service, and perseverance.
▣ "to those who love Him" Love is shown by obedience (cf. 2:5; Exod. 20:5-6; Deut. 5:10; 7:9). There is no excuse for disobedience (cf. Luke 6:46).
1:13 "Let no one say" This is a present active imperative with the negative particle which means "stop saying." The implication is that some believers were saying this or, more probably, that this reflects the literary technique called diatribe used often by James.
▣ "when he is tempted" The context implies that one saying that he is tempted by God is attempting to make his sin God's fault. The word tempted (peirasmois) is used in v. 2 in the sense of outward trials, but here the verbal form is used of temptation. God provides, or allows, testing (cf. Matt. 4:1), but Satan does it (i.e., Job 1-2). "Tempted" (peirazō) is a present passive participle (i.e., "he is being tempted"), which often has the connotation of "testing with a view toward destruction." It is the opposite connotation of the word "test" (dokimazō) used in 1:3,12. See Special Topic: Greek Terms for Testing at 1:3.
▣ "I am being tempted by God" God is not the source of evil (cf. Ecclesiasticus 15:11,15,20).
▣ "for God cannot be tempted by evil" This means either (1) not temptable or (2) "untrained in evil" which means that God has no connection or experience with evil.
▣ "He Himself does not tempt anyone" However, the Bible records several of God's tests: Abraham, Gen. 22:1; Israel, Deut, 8:2; Jesus, Matt. 4:1; and believers, Matt. 6:13. This statement seems to be caught up in the differing connotations between the terms "tempt" (peirazō, cf. 1:13), and "test" (dokimazō, cf. 1:3,12). God does not tempt so as to destroy, but He does test so as to strengthen.
1:14 "when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" These two verbs were used of trapping and luring animals into captivity. We tend to blame others for our sin. We may blame God, the devil, parents, society, education, etc. We are own worst enemy (cf. I Pet. 1:14; II Pet. 2:18). The Bible speaks of three enemies of humanity: the world, the flesh, and the devil (cf. 4:1-7; Eph. 2:1-3). In this context, "the flesh," or our Adamic nature, is the culprit (cf. Ecclesiasticus 15:14-15). Notice that Satan is not even mentioned in this section on human sinfulness. Neither is he mentioned in Paul's section in Romans on human sin (cf. chapters 1-3). Satan is a real tempter, but he cannot force humans to sin and is, therefore, no excuse for their moral failures.
1:15 "when lust has conceived it gives birth to sin" Sin is personified and is viewed as beginning in the mind. The rabbis described temptations and sin in agricultural metaphors. The mind was like a plowed garden ready for seed. A person's eyes and ears were the windows of the mind. What we think about and dwell on develops into what we do! Guard your mind! Here the metaphor changes from capturing animals to "birth" used in a negative sense, while in v. 18 it was used in a positive sense.
▣ "death" The Bible speaks of three kinds of death: (1) spiritual death (cf. Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:1); (2) physical death (cf. Gen. 5); and (3) eternal death (cf. Rev. 2:11; 20:6,14). Often the first two senses are combined as in Ezek. 18:4.
Death has become a theological issue in the evangelical discussion over a young earth (30,000 - 10,000 years) versus an old earth (billions of years). Is physical death (and extinction of some species) the normal order of creation or is it a result of human rebellion and sin? These kinds of questions are not specifically addressed in the Bible. Modern people try to answer these questions by an appeal to science, the Bible, or a combination of them. The Bible provides clear information about God and redemption, but not every intellectual inquiry. If one appeals to modern science, theories change; if one appeals to commentators, theology is often parochial or denominational. See John L. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One.
1:16 "Do not be deceived" This is a present passive imperative with a negative particle which here means to "stop an act already in progress" with the added connotation of an ongoing outside temptation. This is a strong idiom which is used to introduce a major truth (cf. I Cor. 6:9; 15:33; Gal. 6:7; and I John 3:7). God gives good gifts, not evil temptations.
▣ "beloved brethren" See note at 1:2 and 1:9.
1:17 "every good thing given, and every perfect gift" This is the contrast to vv. 13-16. Two different words are used here which appear to be used as parallels. If they are not synonymous, then the first emphasizes the act of giving and the second the thing given. God wants to give us good things. He is not reluctant but often believers are not ready to receive and use God's gifts in healthy ways. The Bible does list some of the things God has given us.
1. Jesus (John 3:16; II Cor. 9:15)
2. the Spirit (Luke 11:13)
3. the Kingdom (Luke 12:32)
4. salvation (John 1:12; Eph. 2:8)
5. eternal life (I John 5:11)
6. peace (John 14:27)
7. wisdom (James 1:5)
▣ "coming down from" Phrases like this imply that heaven is above the earth. Often this is used to discredit the Bible. The Bible is written in phenomenological language, the language of description using the five senses. It is earth-centered or focused. This language is a literary way of expressing the priority of God's ultimate creation, mankind. The Bible is not a science book, but a theology book. It is not anti-scientific, but pre-scientific. In this way it relates to all cultures through time.
▣ "the Father of lights" Light is a biblical metaphor of good, of health, of insight or truth, of purity. The first mention of light is in Genesis 1 where YHWH creates light (cf. v. 3). He also names darkness (cf. Gen. 1:4-5) which shows His control over both. This does not refer to the sun, which is not brought into being until day four (cf. Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 136:7). Light is often associated with God (cf. Ps. 104:2; Dan. 7:9; I Tim. 6:16; I Pet. 2:9; I John 1:5) or Christ (cf. John 1:4-5; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46).
Mankind's destiny is not controlled by angelic or demonic influences depicted in the movement or eclipse of heavenly lights. God is the creator (cf. Gen. 1:14-18) and controller of the heavenly bodies (cf. Ps. 147:4; Isa. 40:26). He always gives good things to His children; even trials have a positive, purposeful, intended outcome—our maturity and trust in Him (i.e., Christlikeness, cf. Rom. 8:28-29).
NASB"with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow"
NKJV"with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning"
NRSV"with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change"
TEV"who does not change or cause darkness by turning"
NJB"with him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow caused by change"
These terms reflect the waxing and waning of the heavenly bodies of light or even the movement of constellations who the ancients thought affected their lives. God is not like them. He is unchanging (cf. Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6) , as is His Christ, (cf. Heb. 1:11-12; 13:8). This is not meant to imply that He is rigid or unsympathetic to human need (i.e., Exod. 32:12,14; Ps. 106:44-45; Jer. 18:6-10), but that His nature, His character of love and compassion towards humankind does not change. Believers can depend on His promises because His character is unchanging, immutable.
The ambiguity of this phrase caused scribes to alter the text in several ways. For a full discussion see Bruce Metzger's A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament pp. 679-680.
1:18 "In the exercise of His will" God always takes the initiative (aorist passive [deponent] participle) in mankind's situation and salvation (cf. John 6:44,65; Rom. 9; Eph. 1:4; 2:8; I Pet. 1:3).
▣ "He brought us forth" This is a common biblical familial metaphor for salvation as becoming God's children through a spiritual birth (cf. 1:12-13; John 3:3; Acts 17:29; Heb. 12:5-9; I Pet. 1:3,23; I John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18).
This phrase could refer to the initial creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis. If this is true then it could explain the difficulty of 1:21 where believers are to welcome the word that is already implanted in them. This then would refer to the image of God in humans by creation (cf. Gen. 1:26; 5:1,3; 9:6) and its full restoration through faith in Jesus Christ.
However, in context this seems to refer to becoming a Christian because the agency is the word of truth which implies that salvation is only through the gospel, not creation. Part of the interpretive ambiguity is the fact that the term "father" is used in several distinct ways in the Bible.
1. creator of all things
2. begetter and sustainer of Israel (and Israel's king)
3. begetter and sustainer of spiritual Israel (the church)
4. relationship within the Trinity (Father - Son)
▣ "the word of truth" In Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; and II Tim. 2:15 it is synonymous with "the gospel." This word is described in I Pet. 1:23-25.
▣ "first fruits" This means first
1. in the sense of time as in the OT where the first-ripened part of the crop was dedicated to YHWH to show His ownership of all the crops (cf. Exod. 23:19; 34:22,26; Lev. 23:10)
2. metaphorically first in priority and prominence
3. the first believers (i.e., Jews) to receive the gospel
This is not to imply that God loves believers more, but that He wants to use them and their changed lives of faith to reach the others.
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.
1. How do vv. 9-11 relate to the argument of chapter 1?
2. Is the rich man in v. 10 a Christian?
3. What does Matthew 6:13 mean if God does not tempt (v. 13)?
4. What is Satan's relationship to temptation?
5. List the types of trials mentioned in chapter 1.
6. Explain in your own words the three enemies which assault the children of Adam.
CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO 1:19-27
A. There is an emphasis in this context on "the word."
1. spiritual birth comes through the word (v. 18)
2. the word is received (v. 21)
3. the word is implanted (v. 2)
4. the word acts as a mirror for God's will (v. 24)
5. the word is the law of the new age (v. 25)
B. There are three key imperatives which show the intended theological progress, similar to the process in Ezra 7:10
1. hear (v. 19)
2. receive (v. 21)
3. do (v. 22; this is the theme of James)
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:19-25
19This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
1:19 "This you know" This is a perfect active imperative. Although this could be taken as an indicative statement (Greek morphology), the introductory imperatives of 1:16 and 2:5 clue us that this is also a command relating to our understanding of the gospel (cf. I John 2:21). The word "know" is used in Hebrew of "personal relationship with" and in Greek as "facts about." Both are crucial aspects of the gospel, which are (1) a person to welcome; (2) truths about that person to believe; and (3) a life emulating that person to live. Believers must live appropriately! This entire section could be entitled "Results of the New Birth" or "The Life Changing Message." Eternal life has observable characteristics.
▣ "my beloved brethren" See note at 1:2 and 1:9.
▣ "quick to hear, slow to speak" This is a proverbial saying (cf. Pro. 10:19; 13:3; 16:32; 17:28; 29:20; see Special Topic: Human Speech at 1:26). Verses 22-25 relate to this first imperatival phrase. This injunction may refer to the informality and unstructured dynamic nature of the worship services of the early church (cf. 3:1ff). This openness was often abused. This same tension among rival singers, tongue speakers, and prophets can be seen in I Corinthians 14.
▣ "slow to anger" Anger is not a sin (lest Jesus be accused of sin in the cleansing of the Temple or His harsh words to the Pharisees), but it is an emotion easily used by the evil one (cf. Pro. 14:17; 16:32; Eccl. 7:9; Matt. 5:22; Eph. 4:26-27). Anger in this context may refer to (1) persecutions, trials, temptations or (2) personal pride or jealousy related to Christian worship (cf. I Cor. 14).
1:20 Angry Christians distort the message that God is trying to communicate to others through them.
1:21 "putting aside all filthiness" This is an aorist middle participle functioning as an imperative. This phrase emphasizes our volitional capacity and responsibility as believers. The removal of clothing is often used as a biblical metaphor for spiritual characteristics (cf. Rom. 13:12; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:22-24, 25-31; Col. 3:8,10,12,14; I Pet. 2:1). Dirty clothing is an OT metaphor which is often used for "sin" (cf. Isa. 64:6; Zech. 3:4).
▣ "all filthiness" This term often means "a wax build-up in the ear."
1. It may refer to unholy living which impairs a believer's hearing of God's word.
2. Its primary usage was "dirty," as in dirty clothing (cf. James 2:2).
3. "Vulgarity" is another possible usage of the term, which would refer to a believer's speech.
NASB"all that remains of wickedness"
NKJV"overflow of wickedness"
NRSV"rank growth of wickedness"
TEV"all wicked conduct"
NJB"remnants of evil"
This term is used in the NT of "that which is left over" or an "abundance of" something (cf. Rom. 5:17; II Cor. 8:2;10:15). Here it seems to mean to keep oneself within the appropriate God-given bounds. This term can be translated "malice" (NEB) or "vicious talk," which would relate it to James' continuing emphasis on the spoken word.
▣ "in humility" This Greek term and its related forms mean "gentleness," "meekness," and "consideration." It is the opposite of the harsh, selfish attitudes and actions delineated in v. 21.
Plato used this family of terms for the "golden mean," that is a wholesome balance in life brought about by one's control of himself. Believers are able to take off evil (i.e., the old man) and put on good (i.e., the new man) because of their trusting relationship with Christ and the indwelling Spirit. Humility is a word picture of Jesus (cf. Matt. 11:29; 21:5) and is God's will for every believer (cf. Matt. 5:5; I Pet. 3:4). See note at 3:13.
▣ "receive" This is an aorist middle (deponent) imperative. God's word, the gospel of Jesus Christ, must be received (cf. John 1:12; Acts 17:11; Rom. 10:9-13; I Thess. 2:13). This receiving is both initial repentance, faith unto salvation, and continuing repentance, faith unto godliness and Christlikeness. The hearing of faith must issue in a life of faith (cf. 2:14-26)!
▣ "the word implanted" This is the metaphor of planting (cf. Matt. 13:8; II Pet. 1:4). The Greek text implies that humans already have the implanted word which they must receive by faith. This could be referring to the original creation of humanity, as could v. 18. If so it would refer to God's image in humans (cf. Gen. 1:26-27), which was marred by the Fall (cf. Genesis 3), but is restored by faith in Christ. Three metaphors are used to illustrate the "word of truth": a seed (v. 21); a mirror (v. 23); and a law (v. 25). The gospel must be received and then lived out.
Verse 21 contains both prerequisites of NT salvation: repentance (laying aside) and faith (receiving, cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16,19; 20:21). Salvation involves a negative "turning from" (repentance) and a positive "turning to" (faith).
▣ "which is able to save your souls" This implanted word is a powerful metaphor of believers' new relationships with God. The term "soul" speaks of the whole person. Humans are a soul (cf. Gen. 2:7); they do not have a soul (Greek concept). Theologically, soul (psuchē) and spirit (pneuma) are synonyms for the whole person.
The term "save" has an OT meaning of "physical deliverance" (yasha) and a NT meaning of "eternal salvation" (sōzō). The OT usage is found in James 5:15,20. But here and in 2:14; 4:12 the NT connotation fits best.
The current theological discussion over "a free salvation" versus "Lordship salvation" is a good example of how modern interpreters proof-text one passage (or category of passages) to the exclusion of others and thereby developing a dogmatic, systematic, theological position. However, the NT, like all ancient near eastern literature, is highly figurative and often dualistic in presenting truth in tension-filled pairs. In this context we are saved (eternal life) by God's word, but we must also act on God's word daily (OT saved or delivered). This combination of faith and works is James' central message, faith and works! They are covenant twins!
1:22 "But prove yourselves doers of the word" This is a present middle imperative. This verse is the central message of the entire book (cf. 1:22,23,25). Christianity is a volitional decision to a faith relationship with Jesus Christ which issues in a Christlike lifestyle. It is possible that this phrase is an indirect way of referring to OT obedience as in the Ten Commandments (cf. James 1:12 combined with Exod. 20:6 and Deut. 5:10).
▣ "not merely hearers" This word was used in Greek literature for those who attended lectures but never joined the groups. Hearing the truth is not enough; believers must act on it and continue to act on it daily (cf. 2:14-26; Matt. 7:21,24-27; Luke 8:21; 11:28; John 13:17; Rom. 2:13).
▣ "who delude themselves" This is a present middle participle (this verb appears only here and Col. 2:4). Modern Christianity is guilty of supposing that church attendance or civil responsibility is equated with Christian service. Our cultural segregation of the secular and sacred only achieves self-deception. Verses 23-25 are an example of such self-deception. Life belongs to God and each of us will give an account to God as to how we have lived it.
1:23 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Modern believers often attend Sunday School and preaching but it does not affect their daily lives. In a sense this is practical atheism, the irrelevancy of God! Christianity is not a building, nor a creed only, but a faith relationship with God through Christ that impacts every area of life, every day!
NASB, NKJV"natural face"
NRSV (margin)"at the face of his birth"
NJB"sees what he looks like"
This metaphor, "face of birth," is used in the sense of seeing one's self. The whole point of vv. 23-24 is that believers must do more than hear the truth or know the truth. We must act on it.
▣ "mirror" Ancient mirrors were made of polished metal. They were very expensive and produced only a distorted reflection (cf. I Cor. 13:12). God's word functions as a spiritual mirror of perfect clarity.
1:24 A quick, superficial look at our true self issues in a settled life of rebellious self-deception!
1:25 "looked" There are two Greek terms in vv. 23-25 for "look" or "observe." The first is katanoeō, used in vv. 23 and 24. The second, used here, is a stronger term, parakuptō, which means "to look intently at" or "to closely examine" (cf. I Pet. 1:12).
Believers are to observe themselves in light of God's word, then they are to gaze intently at "the perfect law, the law of liberty," the gospel of Jesus Christ. Knowledge of self is helpful, but knowledge of God is eternal.
NASB"at the perfect law, the law of liberty"
NKJV"the perfect law of liberty"
NRSV"the perfect law, the law of liberty"
TEV"the perfect law that sets people free"
NJB"the perfect law of freedom"
This phrase is parallel to "the royal law" in 2:8 and "the law of liberty" in 2:12 (also, notice John 8:32,36; Rom. 8:2). This new liberty is illustrated in Rom. 14:1-15:13; I Corinthians 8; 10:23-33. God's word is not a barrier to our freedom, but is real freedom from our sin nature. Believers are now free to serve Him (cf. Romans 6).
▣ "this man will be blessed in what he does" Notice the criteria for blessing: (1) looking intently at the perfect law; (2) abiding by it; and (3) being an effectual doer of it.
The future tense could refer to temporal blessing now, but because of James' eschatological orientation (cf. 1:8-9,12; 5:7-8) it is probably end-time, Resurrection/Judgment Day blessings.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:26-27
26If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. 27Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
1:26 "If anyone thinks himself to be religious" This is a first class conditional sentence, which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. The King James adds "seems" but the phrase refers to self-deception, not the observation and evaluation of others. Often believers substitute the human performance of rules and ritual for daily, Christlike living. Verses 25-26 are not a reference to religious hypocrites, but to sincere, unfulfilled, uninformed, unfruitful religionists! The term "religious" means "one concerned with scrupulous details." James may envision (1) legalistic believers who trust in rules or (2) gnostic believers who trust in knowledge, neither of whom live godly lives.
▣ "does not bridle his tongue. . .this man's religion is worthless" Human speech is a major issue in James (cf. 1:19; 3:2-12). Self-control is a sign of Christian maturity (cf. Gal. 5:22-23). Unfortunately orthodoxy without orthopraxy is common among the people of God. This is an empty show (cf. Isa. 29:13; Col. 2:23-25; II Tim. 3:5). Religion can be a barrier to God (cf. Rom. 9:30-32).
▣ "heart" See Special Topic following.
1:27 "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this" This expresses true religion in terms of service, as do Deuteronomy and Matt. 25:31-46. Also, see Micah 6:6-8 for a definition of true religion. The verse reflects Judaism's almsgiving (cf. Matt. 6:1) which was thought of as an evidence of one's relationship to God. Holiness is not a radical separation from society, but an involvement in the needs of the poor and socially ostracized (cf. 2:15-17).
▣ "to visit orphans and widows" This refers to the social outcasts and socially vulnerable people (cf. Deut. 27:19; Ps. 68:5; Matt. 25:31). The true life-changing gospel always carries with it social concerns and activism. Truly knowing God must issue in serving others made in His image.
▣ "to keep oneself unstained" This is a present infinitive (cf. I Tim. 5:22). The term was associated with acceptable sacrificial animals. Faith has two practical aspects: social action and personal ethics (cf. Matt. 25:31-46).
▣ "by the world" Remember that as believers we are in the world, not of the world (cf. James 4:4; I John 2:15-17); lack of involvement and heavy involvement are both inappropriate.
1. What are we to understand from James 1:19?
2. List the items in vv. 19-27 that could relate to problems in public worship.
3. Explain the two elements of salvation which are discussed in v. 21.
4. In what way do religious people deceive themselves?
5. Why is the speech of believers mentioned so often in James (1:19,21,26; 3:1ff)?
6. Explain James' definition of true religion in vv. 26-27. What two items does he emphasize?
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